Extending Our Minds: the Path to Full Knowing. Plus: A Personal Note

Wanna be a genius?

The things we know and believe have origins beyond our brainpower as measured by natural intelligence (IQ), or those things we have learned through education, experience, indoctrination, and socialization. Alternative vectors of knowledge include sources beyond our brains—beyond what is between our ears and within our skulls. Our bodies below the neck are constantly assessing the world too; their sensory receptors never shut off and have knowledge to offer (if we listen). Objects, both alive like flora and fauna and inanimate like books and computers and art— collectively our surroundings—are significant actors in the stimulation and acquisition of knowledge. And, of course, other humans we choose to associate with are reservoirs of knowledge to draw upon; often referred to as a “brain trust.” Then, we have knowledge built into our DNA—inherited knowledge (also known as ancestral memory) that is believed to be coded into our genes. Finally, our divine knowledge that resides in our soul where eternal wisdom has been carried for millennia (tapping into this vector requires diligent ego suppression).

Humans have an extraordinary capacity to know. It is a key differentiator between ourselves and other mammals. How we know what we know—epistemology—continues to explore these frontiers that may be as vast as the universe itself. Metaphysics suggests all we must do is to be open-minded, open-spirited, and consider the possibilities beyond what scientific method allows. We must drop the filters and guardrails that limit our knowledge to expand our awareness and, therefore, extend our minds.

It has happened to each of us throughout our lives. We have all had unexplained knowings. We often describe these events as the result of a hunch, or our intuition, or simply a lucky choice. But, was it? New research suggests those things ascribed to intuition are actually knowledge sourced from heretofore unrecognized vectors like those described above.[1] It turns out, we are all geniuses, or can be once we unlock ourselves and tune into our world in a much more open, loving, and grateful manner. Like the humans our ancestors hoped we would be.

Eastern philosophy calls this practice open awareness, or mindfulness, where our receivers are on full-power reception unencumbered by what has been or might be; where the only moment that matters is this one—the present. Once we realize this is the path to genius (full knowing), and ultimately transcendence that assures both inner peace and tranquility throughout the world, we might actually decide to change the manner in which we pursue life. (Note: you have just been handed the Holy Grail to assure the survival of Homo Sapiens.)

Contemplative practice combined with routine meditation are the fundamentals of the pursuit of full knowing. A quiet mind, warm heart, and a carefully balanced ego and soul are principal characteristics of the full knowing. Curiosity is their best friend. They don’t speak as much as they listen (with all of their senses) because speaking is a form of projection that requires the suspension of awareness that might compromise their knowing. They share their knowledge with appropriate discernment.  They are neither stingy nor generous; balance is wisdom. Neither are they conspicuous, they prefer anonymity to spectacle. You won’t find them on any red carpet. Often described by others as loners, ironically, they actually hold the keys to human flourishing. They are neither beautiful nor ugly, rich nor poor, powerful nor marginalized. They possess the curious capability to exhibit both solemnity and cheerfulness. They embody grace.

Now, please indulge me as I get personal. Or, if you prefer, click delete now.

In January 2022, in a meditative-ritual state, my “rite of passage cards” (pictured above) were revealed to me. The following October, I was diagnosed with very aggressive cancer, what is called a “high grade tumor”; cells that were likely triggered by the excruciating stress of the prior two years due to my now ex-wife destroying our twenty-year marriage and combined family. Please don’t feel sorry for me. Eventually, I came to embrace the challenge as one of moving from devastation to liberation. In hindsight, it has been a blessing. There is no way I would be where I am today without these events. There is no way I would have learned about full knowing or had come to terms with my own path to what I call “sweet peace.”

In February 2023, I went through a complicated six-hour surgery to rid me of cancer. They thought they “got it all,” but today, my cancer has achieved what they clinically call “biological recurrence” (unfortunate but not unexpected). Tomorrow, I begin seven weeks of daily radiation treatment. And while the doctors have suggested I also receive months/years more of various chemical treatments that carry significant and debilitating effects, I have decided to forego them in favor of retaining my life as it is for as long as it lasts. As I have shared with my doctors, I can handle the dying part, it’s the suffering I want to avoid. Besides, I have had one hell of a good life. Hopefully, with many more years to come.

My seven rite of passage cards describe my life’s journey. Although I was the fourth of four children in a lively and supportive home growing up, as the only boy I learned to embrace being alone. With three older sisters in the house, I spent most of my time outdoors in the woods of the Pacific Northwest.  I withdrew into the woods out of necessity; I had yet to read Thoreau’s Walden to realize it was a soul-building experience. Nature became both my teacher and my source of comfort. My mother would stand on the deck of our house and ring a cowbell when it was time for me to come home for dinner. Yes, I was often wet and cold, but I don’t recall suffering from that. The canopy of trees—mostly bigleaf maples and Douglas firs—engulfed and swaddled me.

Allow me to explain the cards. I love learning and continue to intellectualize everything (card #1). The relationship between myself and Nature, represented here by fly fishing, is depicted in card #2. I love mountains, always have. Being in the mountain—as one of them—living in stability, perseverance, and strength is card #3. Then, transcending the mountain with truth and serenity (the orb). I am above it, rising (card #4). Soaring from my younger self to old age—the journey of ascension—is card #5.  Card #6 is where everything begins to come together, what my spiritual guide described as “the gathering.” Finally, card #7, totally at peace. I made it: sweet peace.

My spiritual guide’s assessment in January 2022 was that I was already there. That my only remaining challenge was to give myself permission to be the person I already was—to surrender to it. (Remember, this was pre-diagnosis.) “Surrender” is a challenging word and concept for me. I was not raised to surrender to anything, but I am beginning to accept the wisdom of it. Both Stoicism and Buddhism support surrender. Stoics advocate accepting things as they are and focusing on our response to them—the only thing we can actually control. The Buddhist tradition suggests, what you resist persists. So, I am embracing surrender in as healthy and as positive a manner as I can. Who knows, perhaps surrender will be the key to my longevity. In any event, peace.

I also recognize there is an exquisite symmetry to my life. Largely alone as a kid, and now similarly alone as my fourth quarter of life is upon me. To be clear, I have many supporters who are cheering for me and are a phone call away from pitching in. I hope I am worthy of their support.

Now, go extend your minds! The future of humanity hangs in the balance.

 

[1] Annie Murphy Paul, The Extended Mind: the Power of Thinking Outside the Brain (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021).

By |2024-06-02T12:13:47+00:00June 2nd, 2024|Current, General, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments

How Can _____ Win in November?

In Barry Schwartz’ seminal 2004 study, The Paradox of Choice, we learned that too many choices “can lead to decision making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress.”[i] Ironically, twenty years later, Americans are being made more than anxious, indeed many are despondent about the lack of choice in the 2024 presidential election. For the first time, the majority of Americans want neither major party candidate. And, in two different polls (CNN and NYT/Sienna) the “never vote,” as in never Trump or never Biden, are both near or above 50%. In fact, to my Biden-supporting friends, in swing states the never Biden vote exceeds the never Trump vote.[ii] Those still clinging to their Biden hopes need to reconsider their stubborn resistance to a new nominee. Or, make sure your passports are current.

Last year, I took two extended road trips around America—one in the Midwest and one in the West—sharing my findings with you in two posts: “Healing the Heart in the Heartland” and “Altered States: My Road Trip West.”[iii] While I hesitate to boil my findings down to one comparison, the most fundamental difference between the two regions was that in the Midwest people were open-hearted but close-minded, while in the West they were open-minded but close-hearted. What they shared, though, was more important and illuminates the key to anyone seeking the presidency in 2024.

In America today, Americans do not feel good about being Americans. Yes, it sounds simple; perhaps even obvious, but also potentially profoundly powerful. Whomever crafts a message and campaign to uplift Americans from this uncommon condition—who liberates us from our malaise—can win in November. For those who think it’s too late in the election year (typically party elites who have guzzled the institutional Kool-Aid), you might want to think again. Americans are hungry for a new candidate—perhaps never hungrier in the history of presidential elections. Whichever party makes a switch at their convention could very well waltz into the White House next January.

Neither major party candidate is addressing this condition in a direct, let alone creative and compelling, manner. Both are so immersed in their own egos and their hatred for each other, they are missing the proverbial forest for the trees. And, third-party candidates do not appear to understand this either while also being electorally irrelevant—systemically relegated to the role of spoiler.

Americans do not believe their federal government serves their interests. On domestic issues, our national leaders treat Americans like pawns to affect their petty political games of gotcha. In the international realm, both allies and enemies believe our leaders have squandered American power. Both inside and outside of America, our leaders are seen as unreliable. We have more confidence (relatively speaking) in our states and local communities, but certainly do not feel like waving the American flag. Finally, we are simply tired. We’ve just come through a hundred-year pandemic crisis from which we are still recovering. We are restless; we are weary and wary; many are borderline despondent. We are mired in malaise.

To exacerbate the problem, although my Boomer generation can recall triumphant moments in American history like our emergence as a superpower after World War II, the largely successful civil rights movement, landing a man on the moon, and defeating the Soviet Union, if you are under forty years-of-age you have no direct and memorable experience with a big American victory. You have no touchstone with which to affirm America’s greatness. To be sure, younger Americans have enjoyed the spoils of these victories and the age of abundance that has followed, but do not—cannot—understand or access those patriotic feelings that accompany the connection between sacrifice and the jubilation of victory. Younger Americans have not experienced America as a master of its destiny, since 9/11 they have mostly seen America as a victim of circumstance. Their general lack of enthusiasm for America—let alone patriotism—while lamentable, is also understandable.

The good news is there exist lessons from history which, if a 2024 presidential candidate would follow, would almost certainly get them elected in November. The period to reflect upon is the late 1970s and the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan as president.

Historians often refer to the presidency of Jimmy Carter as the “malaise presidency.” It was not all his fault. America was coming off a failed attempt to curb communism in Viet Nam that severely divided the country and cost tens of thousands of American lives. Then, Watergate. The Nixon presidency ended in shame. Like today, Americans were deflated and tired and facing the highest inflation in the modern era. Sound familiar? To make matters worse, Carter’s religious heritage as a Southern Baptist informed his disposition that redemption of the soul of America was only possible through sacrifices. He became the jeremiad president; woe are we who have sinned and we must repent/sacrifice to be saved from ourselves. Enter Ronald Reagan who simply and powerfully offered Americans absolution: you are not the problem; government is the problem. He transferred the very concept of original sin from the individual to the government and won in a landslide.[iv] Four years later, he was reelected with an even more powerful message: it was “Morning in America” again full of sunrises in a country that was “prouder, stronger, better.”[v] Once again, Americans felt good about themselves; they were proud to be Americans.

I hold little hope that either Trump or Biden will adopt Reagan’s 1980 strategy. While MAGA could become MAFGA (Make Americans Feel Great Again), Trump is too narcissistic; he has zero capacity to make anyone but himself feel better, and it seems highly unlikely—nigh impossible—that Trumplicans will force him out. And, he desperately needs the presidency to stay out of jail. For Biden, it is too late to affect a MAFGA strategy. Too many voters have entered the “Never Biden” column as his own stubborn ego may cost Democrats the White House. Further, his “Saving Democracy” strategy does not resonate with young, minority, or marginalized voters for whom democracy doesn’t appear to be particularly beneficial with a now clearly corrupt Supreme Court, a congress afflicted by toddler tantrums, and an executive branch that appears old, weak, and ineffectual. For them, it doesn’t seem like a government worth saving. The Democrats’ last hope is to switch horses at their convention. If they both wake up and find the courage to do so. As for third party candidates like RFK, Jr., they have no electoral hope of success outside the two-party system. Voting for them is just political masturbation. Their participation amounts to little more than self-aggrandizement and the pursuit of personal financial gains.

There is an answer to our malaise and to electing someone in 2024 who is younger, energetic, and optimistic about America—who will make Americans feel good about being Americans, again.  Fear and anger and shame are not sustainable, they are just depressing. Optimism is sustainable, and can even be transformative. Optimism causes people to lean into life, not retreat from it. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was criticized for being too old. He was 69. The Washington D.C. Democratic presidential advisor and attorney, Clarke Clifford, called Reagan an “amiable dunce.” Amiable? Yes. Dunce? Hardly. Reagan’s preternatural sunny disposition was exactly what the country needed at the time, and he transformed his party and America. Why not in 2024?

Vote for ____ in November!

 

[i] Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less (HarperCollins, 2004), front matter.

[ii] Aaron Blake, “ ‘Never Trump?’ ‘Never Biden’ Voters Might Loom Larger,” May 18, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2024/05/18/never-trump-never-biden-voters-might-loom-larger/

[iii] See William Steding, “Healing the Heart in the Heartland,” https://ameritecture.com/healing-the-heart-in-the-heartland/ and “Altered States: My Road Trip West,” https://ameritecture.com/altered-states-my-road-trip-west/.

[iv] See William Steding, Presidential Faith and Foreign Policy: Jimmy Carter the Disciple and Ronald Reagan the Alchemist (Palgrave MacMillan, 2014).

[v] See Reagan’s 1984 campaign ad here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUMqic2IcWA.

By |2024-06-02T12:03:27+00:00May 23rd, 2024|General, Recent|0 Comments

Wrangling Intelligence

Like the nuclear era before it, today’s era of artificial intelligence (AI) has been welcomed throughout the world with wonder and equal parts of enthusiasm and trepidation. No doubt, it is a once-in-a-century game-changer. The questions I have are, will we succeed in applying the lessons from the development and deployment of nuclear fission, or someday be viewing the AI version of “Oppenheimer” at the 2090 Academy Awards? Will we summon the discipline to moderate AI to truly advance humankind, or will it be weaponized to destroy our civilization?

Today, both seem like distinct possibilities. Reality will likely be a mixed bag. Probably at best a mixed bag. There are, however, tools from the softer social sciences and philosophy that we can apply to tilt the scales in favor of advancing humankind instead of destroying it. We must put as much energy into the application of those tools today as we are into the mad rush with which technology companies are pursuing more robust and more capable versions of AI. Philosophy is often ridiculed for its lack of production, especially when compared to science and technology. Its job, however, is not to produce breakthroughs for the advancement of humanity; it is to keep those of science and technology from becoming madness. In the nuclear era, Einstein knew this as Oppenheimer eventually did, too. But not before it was too late.

Capitalism does a magnificent job of creating wealth in a direct and observable manner, but only an indirect and often uneven job of furthering the well-being of all humanity. For that, we need the more layered and nuanced application of wisdom that was seldom found in the ego-driven mania of Los Alamos during the nuclear age, or Silicon Valley, or Redmond, Washington of today’s burgeoning age of AI. We must be heedful of those among us who know that the truly wealthy are those who want what they already have; who have left their egos behind to sit in the seat of the soul where eternal wisdom resides. Those who focus on thriving rather than striving.

As a young executive/entrepreneur, I often argued that success was dependent on whether you prevailed in two of three factors—resources, intelligence, and intensity—as long as one of the two was intensity. I now understand that this troika needs tweaking. The reason is quite basic: we have transitioned from a perpetual state of scarcity to one of abundance in the United States and many other parts of the developed world.[i] Today, zero-sum win/lose thinking is largely obsolete due to abundance. As such, resources as a factor have declined in importance, or at least in the highly contested pursuit thereof. Intelligence remains important and is obviously developing rapidly with AI. It is the critical factor of intensity that needs to be reconsidered in the age of abundance.

Intensity in the old troika meant to consider the level of ambition, passion, and will power—the energy of commitment. It’s what Ukraine has as its principal edge in fighting Putin’s Russia. As mentioned above, it was the one domain you must dominate to succeed. There is a better, more wholistic, way to consider intensity in an age of abundance, and that is within the realm of intention. Intention in this rendering includes the energy of commitment as well as other considerations like purpose and meaning. It is the gateway in the troika for morality and wisdom. Intention becomes the rudder on the ship; the navigational guardrails to prevent invention and innovation from tipping into madness.

Intelligence, whether natural or artificial, organic or generative, must be moderated by intention to avoid peril. Intention that is founded in the fundamental values of humankind—our virtues. In much the same way as the theologian Paul Tillich argued about another troika: that social justice is power moderated by love; human progress is intelligence, moderated by intention, supported by resources. Intention is not, however, a traditional locus of assessment in Western culture. In the West, we are much more focused on outcomes as a measure of success than we are intention. In Eastern culture, it is the opposite: intention is more important than outcomes. Hence, we Westerners embrace the unfortunate maxim, “the ends justify the means.” We need to think long and hard about this orientation if we are to succeed in moderating AI.

In a functioning democracy, government usually provides the guardrails to protect society from the often-perilous effects of ambitious enterprise. Unfortunately, in America today, this leadership must come from elsewhere. Moral leadership that informs the tools of restraint might otherwise come from American religious institutions, who were instrumental in human and civil rights issues in the 1960s, but today have been hollowed out by leadership that is more inclined to internal power struggles and political aggrandizement that have left their moral voice mute.        Further, it does not appear, especially since observing the power struggle earlier this year at OpenAI, that the tech industry has any hope of self-moderation. There are glimmers of hope, however, in teams who focus on the application of AI rather than its creation, and who draw on just enough academic/philosophical influences to tame the beast for the benefit of humanity.

One example is Moses Ma of FutureLab Consulting. Ma is a contributor to “The Tao of Innovation” for Psychology Today and I first encountered him at the Conference on World Affairs this spring at the University of Colorado. He was the proverbial rudder on the ship of a number of panels considering AI in world/human affairs. He suggested in “How to Fix OpenAI” that we take instruction from Nobel economist Elinor Ostrom whose work focused on “the equitable management of the commons” to support new leadership regimes (as opposed to regulatory regimes) that dealt with “coordination challenges” including things like well-defined boundaries in applications, monitoring, procedures for conflict resolution, and local autonomy (among others). The goal is that “member groups become so cooperative that the group becomes a higher-level organism in its own right.”[ii] Decentralized non-hierarchical organizations always have challenges with cohesion that can drift into chaos and anarchy, but the notion of moral leadership fostered by organizations that compete to cooperate is worth consideration in this age of abundance.

We can learn from the past if we commit to do so. In our capitalist society, competition is fostered more than cooperation, which historically has produced big benefits. In the collision of our current state of abundance and AI, however, we have an opportunity to do things differently than we did in the nuclear era. Big Tech is unlikely to lead on this issue. The fact is they have little incentive to do so. It will be up to scholars and philosophers who have sensibilities that run to higher objectives and longer time horizons—like Moses Ma—to shine the light on different options to both preserve and advance our civilization.

 

[i] See William Steding, “The Tragedy of Abundance,” February 16, 2022 here: https://ameritecture.com/the-tragedy-of-abundance/ .

[ii] See Moses Ma, “How to Fix OpenAI,” January 14, 2024 here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-tao-of-innovation/202312/how-to-fix-openai

By |2024-05-23T13:06:41+00:00May 12th, 2024|General, The New Realities|0 Comments

Decency

Walking alone, but seldom lonely

Five senses guiding my sixth

To know the world on its own terms

Accepting what is while yearning for better

 

Seeing value in every being

Decency binds humanity to yearning

In the face of fear, anger, and war

Glory, grace, and peace beckon

 

We must recalibrate our course

Climbing the steps of decency

One true and noble act at a time

To right our world, steady its axis

 

It’s about more than knowing, it’s about doing

Practicing decency at every opportunity

Small gestures to herculean efforts

Putting the human back in humanity

 

Humbly we must tread over the rubble

Left by wayward souls trapped in toxic egos

But for divine grace we are them

As we thrive and flourish in the light of truth

 

Rough and perilous the road remains

Cormac asks, who will carry the fire?[1]

The path is paved by acts of decency

Dispensed with kindness and compassion

 

The work is never done, arrival a mirage

The journey is its own reward

Virtues bloom in decency’s radiance

Where good is nurtured to gallantry

 

Humanity can prosper on the back of decency

One doesn’t have to look hard to act

Our chances to be decent are everywhere

We must simply ignore the scoundrels

 

Summon eternal wisdom from our souls

Heads up, shoulders back, eyes focused

It’s our world to save and the time has come

Decency is our beacon and our hope

 

[1] Referring to the late Cormac McCarthy’s The Road wherein at the end of the dystopic journey the dying father instructs his son that “You have to carry the fire” now—the hope of humanity—which the father further explains to his son that the fire is “Inside of you. It was always there. I can see it.”

By |2024-05-12T13:07:56+00:00May 5th, 2024|General, Spiritual|0 Comments

Get Out of Your Box

As the humorist Dave Barry recently described a woman’s reaction toward the coming presidential election, she had “the facial expression of a person who has just opened the door to a port-a-potty on the last day of a midsummer chili festival.” Notwithstanding the aversion most Americans have toward a hyper-divided America, and the abject apathy we feel toward the current two geriatric presidential candidates, many continue to forecast a coming civil war between red and blue as fantasized in the recent release of Alex Garland’s dystopian “Civil War.” The movie may be a hit, but the local cinema is likely the closest we will come to any civil war. The vast majority of Americans, whom our collective media ignores, remain hiding inside their boxes where their weariness creates little more than disgust, let alone the energy to pursue violence. Even MAGA zealots are showing signs of fatigue.

The old guard of our two-party system very much wants to keep us there—in our boxes. More specifically, in our three-dimensional boxes with two-dimensional binary choices. This or that. Him or him. Us versus them. Pick one without thinking too much. Settle for the least-worst choice. Set your brain aside. The brain that would like its human to scream, “Bullshit!”, but has been silenced by intensely partisan institutions that want to preserve themselves rather than solve problems, leaving the few remaining screamers hoarse. The Republican leader, Speaker Mike Johnson, seems to spend more time with his comb than his gavel. Meanwhile, Democrats are busy playing their favorite game they learned from the religious right: “Shame on you!”

Sick and tired? Me too.

Depression is at an all-time high in America across nearly all demographic groups—especially our teens who have had the development of their autonomy severely compromised. Consequences have been avoided to their profound detriment. First, by helicopter parenting and more recently by social media and online gaming. As a result, teens and young adults have not learned to properly manage risk in order to make the decisions that make possible the glorious uplifting autonomy they naturally crave. Their sense of self is a mirage. Worse, they know it. They look in the mirror and see a fraud. Depression and anxiety have become both inevitable and pervasive.

Meanwhile, many adults have also abdicated their agency and the responsibility that goes with it. It’s the same problem: without a sense of autonomy based in a healthy embrace of self-determination, we feel lost. Things happen to us instead of because of us. Many have made victimhood their pathetic ambition. Woe is me. Woe be us. It is a twisted way to try to feel good, but like autonomy, aspiration also dies with the abdication of responsibility.

We got here innocently enough. Hoodwinked by the orange one and then buried by the malaise of the pandemic, all of which coincided with our surrender to social media silos that narrowed our world to echo chambers of intellectual incest and, for some, psychological collapse. Between politicians and the media, we’ve been gaslighted so many times the vapors have fogged our sense of who we are, or once were, as Americans. It has left us feeling collectively unworthy, suffering from what I can only describe as societal loathing. Many Americans feel alone and abandoned. Moreover, they take no pride in calling themselves Americans anymore.

These days must end. There is no reason to put up with this nonsense any longer. A soon-to-be convicted felon and sociopath, or a well-meaning grandpa who can barely make it to his helicopter. These are the choices of the most powerful and wealthy nation in the world? Spare me. This nation is loaded with bright young people who know better and can do better. Enough already. Remaining in our boxes is not the answer. It is time to emerge. To kick the political provocateurs and dullards to the curb and take control of our future. We need to do it for ourselves and a free world that craves American leadership, but currently sees us as a frail and confused shell of our former selves.

I won’t beat you up with the remembrances of an old man, but the hard reality (and present opportunity) must be considered if we are to reset America. Yes, America was once a great nation and can be again. I remember when Americans wouldn’t even consider, let alone embrace, victimhood or failure. To be sure, we failed, but we learned from failure and tried again; without recrimination or abdication. We failed our way to success. We saw the future as a promising horizon of opportunity, not a venue for victimhood. We understood that the path to success was not paved with the stones of grievance. Furthermore, we took responsibility, individually and collectively. Consequences—for better and worse—were like oxygen. We needed them to live. Moreover, outcomes were the foundation of our self-worth. Taking responsibility for them, which has become something we urgently and often creatively try to avoid today, was critical to our well-being. It was (and is) at the core of self-determination, which has been an essential American value since Thomas Jefferson put quill to parchment.

So, what can you/we do?

To those of you with more gray hair, or none at all, your job is to mentor. To extend the hand of wisdom to lift younger leaders up. Those who need and want to succeed for the benefit of us all. To get out of their way and cheer them on. No, seventy is not the new fifty, it’s seventy. Shed yourself of your old ego and find satisfaction—self-worth—in helping others succeed. Focus on having the deep word, not the last word. Your country needs you now more than ever, but not in the manner it once did. Enable, mentor, inspire. Nudge, don’t shove, and I’ll say it again: get out of the way!

To those who have all their hair and energy to match it, you are not your social media feed. You are human and have responsibility for yourself, your family, your country and world. That may seem daunting, but it is also your great opportunity to find both your purpose and meaning. It is your path to greatness. Find your way with humility and grace. Embrace failure and learn from it. You can do it. Your ancestors did and so can you. Yes, things are different today; arguably easier. Put your phone down and look at the horizon. All of that world out there is yours. Go and get it!

This American reset will take time. We need to balance our ambition with patience. Be both relentless and deliberate. Above all else, we need to respect ourselves and each other. Shut up and listen. Consider the fact that every person you encounter knows something you don’t know and can do something better than you can do it. And, you have the same to offer. Working together brings all possibilities to the table to assure our mutual success. To make tomorrow better than today. To lead the world once again.

By |2024-05-05T12:49:38+00:00April 21st, 2024|General, Recent, The New Realities|0 Comments

America Needs a (Moral) Hero

“Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”

American media has created many heroes throughout my lifetime and our culture produced many more in real life from popular presidents like Kennedy, Reagan, and Obama to social activists like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks and, perhaps the largest category of all: athletes like Michael Jordan, Muhammed Ali, and Joe Montana to name just three. Recently, women have produced more heroes than men in America like Taylor Swift and Caitlin Clark who are notable and legitimate heroes to millions of American women and girls.

Generally, heroes play a much greater role in our fantasy lives than in our real lives, although the line between the two for many of us can be faint. In fiction, some might suggest they are critical to a novel’s success for without them, and some seemingly insurmountable challenge they must conquer, we wouldn’t turn the page. Recently, I participated in a literary discussion where the role of heroes was debated to find their proper role in great works of literature. I was left pining for heroes. I even suggested, “what America needs—what I need today—is a damn hero” for which I was admonished by one participant for falling in to the trap of the “great man theory” of history, even while I am enough of an historian to know that while heroes do not explain all history, I acknowledge how important hero-leaders are to moving society forward. Where would we be without Washington, Franklin, Lincoln, Roosevelt, or King? Admittedly, we often don’t recognize heroes in real time, but fortunately we have historians to illuminate them later.

The role of heroes—imagined or real—seems to be critical to our collective well-being. The “better angels” Lincoln referred to in his first inaugural address that might guide us to practice more virtuous lives are the essence of the value of heroes: they bring out the best in us. They provide a model against which to measure our own worth. By their example, they hold us accountable. What kid in my generation did not want to be like Superman? Advertisers have shamelessly understood the allure of heroes for years. The Gatorade advertising campaign, “Be Like Mike” directed us to do what Michael Jordan does and load up on their carb/electrolyte/sugar drinks (which did not improve my jump shot one bit). Heroes show us how to live.

Of all the things that have been written about Donald Trump, few recognize how he has flipped the role of hero on its head. To be clear, for many he is their hero; even seen as a savior—the new chosen one for many evangelicals. A condition I expect Jesus would have a hard time reconciling. And what he has accomplished for too many is to demonstrate how to behave, or perhaps more accurately, misbehave. Unfortunately, Trump’s flip comes in the fact that rather than demonstrate virtuous behavior to summon our better angels, he has single-handedly given permission to those vulnerable to his fear-based manipulation to engage in inappropriate behaviors that violate our laws and established norms of behavior. Everything from attacking the Capitol on January 6th to abusing flight attendants on commercial aircraft can be laid—directly or indirectly—at Trump’s feet. In essence, if you don’t like something, or somebody, or someplace, attack it by whatever means you have available from simple disregard to wielding fists and weapons. As Trump has suggested many times, rules and norms are for suckers and losers!

Notwithstanding the fact that many of Trump’s followers now get their meals on fiberglass trays through a slot in their prison cell doors, many others still follow his path of permissible destruction. He has made being really bad really cool for too many Americans. His anti-hero modality has yet to be countered by a new American hero. Americans need more than Joe Biden whose low ratings are probably due in part to the fact he doesn’t impress as hero, or even hero-adjacent. His Dark Brandon character wearing aviator glasses just doesn’t leap any tall buildings. (Please, Joe, do not even try to jump!) We need somebody to come forward and be our new hero; to reestablish the expectation of better angels. To shift the spotlight back to moral goodness and civility.

Inasmuch as we need a moral hero (as opposed to the next super-hoopster like Michael Jordan or Caitlin Clark) I recognize this is a big ask. America is much more capable of producing athletic heroes than moral ones. When I looked around for prospects, there are plenty of dead moral heroes (Aleksei Navalny the most recent), but few live ones, and I doubt the Dalai Lama is willing to relocate to Chicago. A reasonable expectation is that he or she would come from organized religion; perhaps even American Christianities. But these institutions have become captives of their overlords who are much more interested in institutional preservation and the grandiosity of their leaders.

We are left with the promise of physics, in this case, that pendulums swing. Jesus + Einstein. As pendulums swing to and fro, I have confidence this condition will self-correct; that a new moral hero is emerging even while we can’t name him or her, yet. Heroes and anti-heroes enjoy a kind of perverted symbiosis: they need each other. In the era of Trump, it is simply the nature of Nature that a new moral hero would rise. When he or she does they will not claim the throne of heroism; there will be no fanfare. Moral heroes gain distinction in their humility, not their spray-on orange-hued puffery. In the meantime, perhaps Trump’s kryptonite—the truth—will begin to deplete his kinetic energy so gravitational potential energy can prevail in favor of a new hero.

Now, look up in the sky! It may just be a bird, or a plane, but one never knows where the next hero will come from. Hopefully for America, sooner rather than later.

By |2024-04-21T13:22:33+00:00April 14th, 2024|General, Leadership, Recent|0 Comments

Racing into Spring

On my walk this morning up Boulder Creek, a Western Robin cocked its muddied beak at me and let out a clumsy squawk offering proof her winter rest had left her unpracticed in her warnings to approaching strangers. The message: “I am not to be trifled with” was, however, received. I hope she found a delicious earthworm or two to sate her gullet and soften her disposition.

For most of us, the winter of ’24 was tame by historical standards. In Colorado, we fortunately got plenty of moisture even while higher temperatures meant the snow had the texture of mashed potatoes more than baby powder. The skier’s revelry for “blower pow” was replaced by the climate-change reality of sodden flakes. Here’s hoping our water well—the snowpack—will persevere and protect us from summer wildfires.

As you may have gained from my reference to Boulder Creek, this winter included my relocation from my beloved San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado two degrees farther north latitude to Boulder, Colorado, home of the CU Buffaloes who seek new fame (infamy?) for their football program with Coach Prime. We’ll see how that goes. If he can accomplish what the women’s basketball team has, he may be around for a while.

My reason for relocation were greater opportunities for social and intellectual stimulation as well as better access to healthcare while maintaining reasonable exposure to nature and recreation. Those of you who live in healthcare deserts like the Western Slope of Colorado know what I mean. Cancer brought that reality home to me, loud and clear.

In making the decision, I reflected on a lesson taught to me many decades ago by a great American you have never heard of, Roger Neuhoff. Roger was an east coast guy—a quintessential New Englander—and former CIA agent during the Cold War whom I met during my broadcasting career while living in Washington D.C. His spook-assignment was to infiltrate North Korea during the Korean War and rescue stranded and/or captured American reconnaissance pilots. He was not only smart, he had extraordinary courage. He taught me, with his no-nonsense Yankee wisdom, that if I had a choice of where to live a person can’t go wrong with living in, and investing in, cities that have: a land grant university; a state capital; and, a river. In his view, water, proximity to power, and youthful energy and inspiration assured vitality inoculated from economic downturns. Like most things in his life, he was correct about this formula, too.

So, I decamped; from one corner of Colorado where I was close to New Mexico and Arizona to a northern position closer to Wyoming. I now live across the street from the creek, a fifteen-minute walk to Coach Prime’s new promotional playground—Folsom Field—and just two blocks from Boulder’s famous Pearl Street which has some of the finest restaurants and retail in our country, although the food gets much more of my attention than the latest merch. Besides the university, which is an obvious source of intellectual stimulation, and which I plan to exploit soon at their April Conference on World Affairs, Boulder is also home to Highland City Club (HCC), close to my new residence as well.

HCC has, as its mission, to be a “securus locus” or safe place to pursue all manner of social, intellectual, and business endeavors. Its founder, Sina Simantob (an American immigrant and true visionary) who sees Boulder as an “Athens of the West” and his son, Dustin, have done an extraordinary job of creating a haven for open minded, curious, and intelligent people. Clearly, they made an exception in accepting my membership application! They further describe their mission as:

City Club’s community offers a shared safe place, allowing our members to feel accepted for who they are. Show up as your best self and see us as we see ourselves. We are the young and the old. We transcend race, gender and religious belief. We are the young entrepreneur operating on a shoestring, and the seasoned business person wanting to give back. We are not separated by our politics. We are the artist, scientist, educator, and retiree. We embrace them all. Each voice counts equally. A tall order, perhaps, but we’ve been at it for four decades.

Yes, folks, notwithstanding the vitriol that has inundated our national discourse, there are still enlightened places in America where open-mindedness fosters creativity and ingenuity across all dimensions of intellectual endeavor.

I am now where the rivers flow southeast rather than southwest, on the so-called “front range” of the Rockies—on the other side of the Continental Divide. Theoretically, our headwaters end up in the Gulf of Mexico, although given the parched lands between I doubt a drop ever reaches its warm waters. During the interregnum from my writing due to my move, I have kept a scant eye on national developments other than to notice things haven’t gotten any better.

My desire for a McCarthy-esque comeuppance for Donald Trump, like when Joseph Welch nailed Senator McCarthy with his famous query, “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” (effectively ending the demagogue’s career), has yet to be visited upon Mr. Trump. And, while I recognize that a sociopath of Trump’s caliber would not likely be swayed by the quaint notion of decency, one can still fantasize. November draws closer day-by-day. Yikes.

Happy Easter, everyone. As He is, may we all be, risen.

By |2024-04-14T13:18:07+00:00March 29th, 2024|General, Recent|0 Comments

For MLK, Jr: “Fierce Resilience”

Big mountains

Big snow

Big wind

 

Scoured stone

Frozen in time

Stasis preserved

Unscarred

 

Millennia speak

Through perseverance

Change swirls

Permanence unrivaled

 

If the peaks spoke

No trivia

Just just wisdom

Low resonance

 

Fierce resilience

Their message

As the world churns

Forever present

By |2024-03-29T14:37:17+00:00January 15th, 2024|Leadership, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments

Dear President Joe: What About Us?

Dear Joe:

On November 9, 2016, the day after Trump was elected our 45th president and you, Joe, started packing your boxes after living in the Naval Observatory for eight years, I posted “From Hope and Change to Fear and Change: A Letter to My Children.” In it I suggested that,

In the short run, expect the uncertainty that swirls around a Trump presidency to produce a significant amount of economic, political and social stress. Trade, foreign policy, healthcare, the Supreme Court; there are many places to expect him to exercise his power in nefarious ways.

In closing, after imploring them to “focus on your own physical, psychological, economic, and intellectual strength” as a survival strategy, I also suggested that their generations (millennial and Z) had the power to mitigate any damage he might do. I wrote, “You have the power. Do not squander it through apathy or neglect. In the end we all—individually and collectively—are responsible for Trump and what happens next.” Seven-plus years later I still believe that; perhaps now more than ever.

From the beginning of Trump’s presidency, I never subscribed to the hope that somehow the office of the presidency might reform him making him behave like a president—at least like the 44 who preceded him. As we all have learned since, what most of us (including yours truly) did was under-imagine and underestimate just how feral his selfish depravity might become.

Today, we face not only the possibility but, if the polls are correct, the probability of his election once again to the presidency in 2024. I agree with you, Joe, this would be the beginning of the end of our democracy. But standing up and angrily making that case as you did in your campaign launch on January 5th—that we should all be anti-Trump because of the threat he poses to American democracy—will not save us. Moreover, it will not get you reelected.

I suspect that I hurt your feelings late last summer when I suggested you gracefully bow out and act to mentor your replacement for the nominee for president of the Democratic Party in 2024 (“Let’s Get Really Real,” September 10, 2023). I apologize. Forgive me further when I suggest that your feelings, and the robust ego that defends them, are unimportant to me (as they should be to you) given the peril we face in a second Trump presidency. The stubborn reality is that your advanced age is abundantly obvious and disqualifying to most voters—regardless of the facts that support a mostly productive presidential record. And, please remember your pledge in your last campaign that you would be a one-term “transition president.” That said, I am grateful that you stepped up when you did to give us a four-year reprieve even while it feels like it wasn’t much of a reprieve.

I hear you; you are unwilling to give up the Oval Office. But, if you insist on persisting, you need to realize that extremely important voter blocks, including my children as well as blacks and Hispanics, will not automatically show up for you in November as they did in 2020 if you simply run on an anti-Trump message. The reason lies in the numbers and they suggest—loud and clear—that everyone has made up their mind about Trump. Those who have been for him still are, regardless of his felony-count total, and those who aren’t, aren’t. Conducting an anti-Trump campaign is like howling into a black-hole in outer space; it will produce no new votes for you, but it will keep the spotlight on him, which he is preternaturally skilled at turning into donations and votes.

The further reality is that Trump supporters will show up to vote for him, while those who are repulsed by him may or may not show up for you depending on whether they believe you will be able to improve their lives by serving their needs. That doesn’t mean these folks don’t care about American democracy as much as you do, they simply don’t believe an octogenarian white guy understands, let alone can deliver, the changes they need to secure their future. This is the hurdle you must clear if you have any hope of being reelected.

Don’t speak to us about the dystopic future of a Trump America, speak to us about reestablishing our many rights of self-determination, which Trump has compromised. How will you act to restore women’s rights to control their bodies—their healthcare? How will you assure the young Hispanic kid that a good education and job opportunities remain available to them? How will you show us that crime can be brought under control without terrorizing young black men? How will you secure our border while maintaining America as a beacon of freedom? We don’t need you to rail against Trump; frankly, that is just annoying. We need you to explain how you are for us.

Joe, it’s not just democracy that is on the ballot (as you like to proclaim). Our dreams are on the ballot, too. Don’t just express your concern for America, show that you are concerned about Americans, too. You must make the connection between our democracy and our dreams!

I still harbor the hope that you will figure out a way before or during the Democratic National Convention to pass the torch to someone who shares your agenda but not your age. I believe Americans will turn on a dime—perhaps even rejoice—at an option that is neither you nor Trump. That much is clear in the numbers, too. It is still a long time—in political time—to November 2024. Perhaps as yet unforeseen events will produce a change in our options for president in 2024. Maybe we will be delivered from the impending nightmare of a second Trump presidency by some form of divine intervention.

Regardless, what Americans do not want is more fear. What we want is an aspirational vision of the future where all of us—from the old, angry, white man to the young, transexual, Gen Z artist—can believe once again that America is the greatest nation in the world because it remains the one nation in the world where anyone’s dreams can come true. That is the promise I grew up with, and it’s the one you need to reestablish, Joe.

So, respectfully, quit wallowing in Trump hysteria and get off your skinny Scranton-reared ass and get the job done. Quit talking about Trump and start talking about us! Show us how a second Biden term will restore the American Dream. How will you enable our dreams? Be our beacon of hope, Joe, not the Grim Reaper of despair; we get enough of that negative crap from the large Orange One.

Sincerely,

A guy who cares about America and Americans, too.

By |2024-01-15T15:20:02+00:00January 7th, 2024|General, Leadership|0 Comments

Seeking Higher Ground

I attempt to welcome each new year with more hope than trepidation. Admittedly, I have failed in the last few years. The abandonment of civility in our nation and world, and the unprecedented rejection of rational discourse founded in truth to find agreement about basic realities in order to solve fundamental challenges has proven—to say the least—disorienting. What we have collectively witnessed and endured has tested the fortitude of our character to unnatural levels.

And yet, I don’t think I have learned more about life and how to live it than during these extraordinarily disturbing times. The lessons of my bucolic Boomer childhood notwithstanding, I enter 2024 with great gratitude for these more recent learnings born from the necessity of sanity. Dark times force one to dig much deeper into their knowledge, beliefs, and fundamental consciousness that—if we commit ourselves to a practice of mindfulness—reveals magnitudes of higher-order thinking. The American country singer-songwriter, Lyle Lovett, sang, “I live in my own mind, ain’t nothin’ but a good time.” That worked for me too until my mind wasn’t such a good time. Then, I had to either reconfigure and recalibrate my mental modalities, or accept a descent into the depths of depression. Fortunately, my Celtic heritage allowed no room for despair. I do come from stubborn and sturdy stock.

Recently, I have been digging through my archive of notes, mostly taken from books I have read. Thirty years ago, I read the book A World Waiting to be Born by M. Scott Peck (1993). After several moves, it remains in my library today so it must be a good one. In it he describes a world of rebirth and renewed civility in that early post-Cold War era (two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union) that we now know was, sadly, stillborn. The period that followed—that included our transformation from ages-long scarcity to newly realized abundance—illustrated that while humans are good, we are also weak. The period of high idealism that began in the early 1980s crashed (as periods of high idealism always do) into a period of crisis from which we are now—hopefully and finally—emerging.

Shortly after Peck’s book was published, Microsoft launched the Windows operating system (1995). Since then, I kept a file simply called “Ideas” that has since evolved into many more files that provide a reservoir of knowledge and inspirations that now—three decades later—prove that new ideas may or may not exist, but the great ones come and go and come again. In this file was a quote from Peck’s book that made enough sense to be jotted down at the time, but makes even more sense to me today—after these last few years of tumult and terror.

Peck wrote,

… the point is to plunge ahead as pilgrims, through thorns and sharp stones of the desert into deeper and ever-deeper levels of consciousness, becoming ever more able to distinguish between those varieties of self-consciousness that are ultimately destructive and those that are life-enhancing, even godly.

Today, Peck’s advice leaves me both dumbstruck and awestruck. Dumbstruck because I feel stupid having written it down and then largely ignored it for thirty years, and awestruck because it absolutely nails the value of the rigorous interrogation of my consciousness that has proven so beneficial in eluding despair’s tendril-grip grasp thus enabling my liberation—even if only for a moment here and there. This is what some mindfulness teachers call glimpses of enlightenment: when the spiritual-self—the soul—overcomes the ego-self.

Socrates taught his students the importance of “to know thyself” as a prerequisite to a meaningful and fulfilling life. Indeed, having an honest and humble sense of self is an essential element of maturity. However, as I have learned from those rooted in Eastern philosophy, there is another step. Knowing thyself then enables one to create space between the self and negative thoughts and emotions through the practice of mindfulness. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle recommends, do not say “I am angry,” simply recognize that “anger is in you.” That space created through recognition of anger’s existence, rather than it being an integral part of you, is the space necessary to isolate toxic effects before they penetrate your psyche to cause harm. It enables what Peck is suggesting where he writes about building the capacity to distinguish between things that are destructive and those that are life-enhancing. It is a subtle yet powerful practice. The ultimate benefit of this approach is the manifestation of a balanced and centered life that supports peace and tranquility; what the Greek stoics called eudaimonia.

May I suggest that in 2024 we take Peck’s advice and “plunge ahead as pilgrims” to seek a “life-enhancing, even godly” new year. May we do this from the core of moral goodness that resides in each and every one of us. May we together establish a new road paved by integrity with courage on the accelerator and humility on the brakes.

As we leave 2023 behind, I offer you some lines of verse titled, “Revelation,” that describes the arc of life from its terrifying beginning to its transcendent finale.

Revelation

We arrive alone

Terrified, crying

Strangers smiling

Happy in our terror

We’ll call them family

 

We craft a self

That makes us special

We strive and fail

And craft some more

Climbing, falling, climbing

 

Styles like lovers

come and go

Unmet expectations

Deceive and disturb

Carrots and sticks

 

Surfing rainbows

Beauty without bliss

Until we stop, sit

The stillness of shade

Hearts finally open

 

Light in the darkness

Shedding our armor

Liberation beckons

Solemn calm

Sudden transcendence

In the Apostle Paul’s first epistle to the church of Corinth, he makes the case for the necessity of a life denominated in love while also recognizing the value of faith and hope. While love envelops both, hope is our greatest natural source of strength. It is the spine of our character. Further, it is available to each of us and can only be taken away by a loss of faith—principally in ourselves. It is, therefore, our duty to nurture hope and to protect it from those who wish to strip us of our humanity; from those whose own selfish depravity knows no limits. It is time, once again, to reach for hope and show each other and the world that the future belongs to those who honor its strength.

Cheers and Happy New Year.

By |2024-01-07T13:37:50+00:00December 31st, 2023|General, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments
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